Since 1925, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia has had a seat at the table in Czech parliaments. While momentarily sidelined by the Nazi occupation during World War II, the party managed to centralize power rather quickly thereafter, working with Moscow to crush dissent and impose totalitarian control from 1948 until the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
Now, more than three decades after the country’s transition to democracy, its aging remnants are finally fading into the distance. In last week’s election, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) lost its last seats in parliament, registering only 3.62% of the total vote.
“It is a highly symbolic moment for Czech democracy since the KSCM has never rejected the legacy of the Czechoslovak communist dictatorship and never apologized for the communist regime’s crimes,” says Filip Kostelka, a political science professor at the University of Essex. “…There is reason to expect that the party will never return to parliament.”
For Jiří Gruntorád, a Czech dissident who was jailed from 1981 to 1985 under the party’s forbear, it’s a welcome achievement, but one that’s taken far too long.
“It pleases me, it pleases me a lot,” he said in an interview with Reuters. “But it’s coming too late. It was one of the last communist parties in the world apart from the Chinese and Cuban ones that held on to its name. The others have at least renamed themselves and started behaving a little differently.”
The election also struck a blow to another leftist party, the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), which failed to win representation for the first time since Czechoslovakia’s founding in 1918. Both parties had worked closely with Prime Minister Andrej Babis, whose party also lost the popular vote.
While the news marks a decisive symbolic victory against communism and progressivism, it’s but one development in a larger realignment marked by a mix of populism and centrism.
“As well as a defeat for Babis, this weekend’s election was also grim for the country’s non-centrist parties,” writes David Hutt at Euronews. “Support for the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) dropped a percentage point and it lost two of its seats in parliament. The libertarian Pirates Party, the third-largest party going into the ballot, only picked up four seats as part of its alliance with STAN [Mayors and Independents party].”
Time will tell whether rising generations are truly turning away from leftist ideology or simply rejecting an aging, outmoded party. According to a 2019 Pew Research survey that assessed European opinions on the fall of communism—now 30 years in the rearview mirror—attitudes in the Czech Republic remain largely favorable toward free markets, with some exceptions.
Alas, a sizable number still disapprove of the shift to democratic capitalism, with 17% saying “the economic situation for most people today is worse than it was under communism,” and 16% disapproving of the shift altogether. Fortunately, among rising generations, the trend seems to be moving steadily in favor of freedom, not just in the Czech Republic but across all former East bloc countries.
“Young people in general are keener on the movement away from a state-controlled economy in many of the countries surveyed,” the report concludes. “For example, in Slovakia, 84% of 18-to-34-year-olds are in favor of this change, compared with 49% of those ages 60 and older. Double-digit age gaps also appear in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania.” In the Czech Republic, the gap between young and old is somewhere around 9%, with the young trending more in favor of capitalism.
In 1990, months after the Velvet Revolution and just two months into his presidency, the late Václav Havel reflected on the challenges of moving past communism, hoping that a free and full-bodied democracy was somewhere on the country’s horizon.
“We are still under the sway of the destructive and thoroughly vain belief that man is the pinnacle of creation and not just a part of it, and that therefore everything is permitted to him,” he said. “…In other words, we still don’t know how to put morality ahead of politics, science, and economics. We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine core of all our actions—if they are to be moral—is responsibility.”
When it comes to political solutions, Havel continued, “the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human responsibility.”
In the struggle against communism, plenty of fight still remains. But as the latest election indicates, the Czechs are far closer to that horizon of human freedom, and they’re still bringing plenty of heart.